Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Still with Kindle!

No, I wasn't knocked out by the 900 pages of Parade's End last August; however, I have been very lazy about blogging since then, obviously. Right after PE, I couldn't get away from WWI and read a historical novel by Jeff Shaara. Rather more workmanlike than Ford (Shaara is not the stylist that his father Michael Shaara was, much less FMF), To the Last Man is still very good for its fictionalized take on the outsize characters of Baron Richthofen, Raoul Lufbery, John J. Pershing, Petain, and Clemenceau. It also folds in the evolution of aerial warfare with the Lafayette Escadrille (French air service but with many American volunteers) and the German air aces, of whom the most famous is the Red Baron. It sticks to real people even when it shifts from the high-ranking strategists to the boots on the ground. Trench warfare and the brutal fighting on the Western Front are brought to life through the experience of the young Marine, Roscoe Temple, who fought at Belleau Wood and St. Mihiel.

I followed up with the breezy and charming The Plague by Camus (just kidding). One has to emerge from world war by degrees, so a tense tale of exile, deprivation, and inevitable death bridged the gap to...Angels on Toast. The sharp American writer Dawn Powell was writing about Mad Men way back in the 40s. Traveling businessmen, their wives, mistresses, and general shenanigans are skillfully and wittily satirized by Powell. Needless to say, there's lots and lots of drinking and smoking, lies, and ruination. She's one of those really fine early 20th Century writers who has slipped under the radar for the most part (although canonized in the Library of America series).

Powell was a pretty good segue into another witty woman of the world, Nancy Mitford. One of the famous English Mitford sisters (right, Nancy is second from left), Nancy was brought up in the aristocratic atmosphere of a rambling country house with eccentric parents, and even more eccentric neighbors and relatives, all of whom people her stories. The Pursuit of Love in a Cold Climate is thinly veiled autobiography about the Radlett sisters, who go about finding and marrying and being variously tortured by all the wrong men. If Downton Abbey is the twilight of Empire, the Radletts exist quite a bit further into the gloaming. The Radletts are badly educated, irreverent, and outrageous in their quirks. The father of the clan is an irascible veteran of the Great War, claiming to have whacked several Germans to death with an entrenching tool, which is preserved with  bloodthirsty pride above the family fireplace. Mitford is effortlessly stylish, spinning out hilarious descriptions and dialogue that is shimmeringly droll. If you're suffering from winter blahs, Mitford will lighten your mood. I think I read this one during jury duty!

Okay, wrapping up very quickly here, I finished off jury duty with a good biography about Ada Byron (Benjamin Wooley's Bride of Science). Daughter of Lord Byron, she is considered to be the "mother of computer programming," due to her work with Charles Babbage, who created an early computer, the Difference Engine. Good stuff, for those of a geeky bent. Then, in the winter and toward the holidays, I got pretty lazy and/or distracted and read little -- The Call of the Wild by London and a very creepy occult novel of the late 1890's by Arthur Machen, The Great God Pan. If you're in the mood for rather baroque Satanic weirdness, you can download this gem from Project Gutenberg for free.

I'll break it off there for now, but as I hinted in the title, Santa hubby brought me my very first ebook reader for Christmas. I'm still in the early stages with it, but I have to admit, I kind of like the convenience: lightweight, well-lit, and I never lose my place or have to dig in the crevices of the sofa trying to locate my bookmark. How antique! Not to mention, downloading ebooks from the local library is pretty awesome. I'll tell you about the first book I bought and read on my Kindle next time. It had to be something to mark the occasion. Want to guess?

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